Friday, January 24, 2014

City of Ember (2008) [PG] ***

Two teenagers, Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) live in the City of Ember, an underground city built by nameless Builders to protect a human community for 200 years. Its inhabitants have lived for generations without sunlight, in an amazing world of sparkling artificial lighting. Now, 240 years old and well past its designed lifespan, Ember's powerful electric generator is breaking down; the great lamps that illuminate the city are going dark for increasingly long periods of time, and supplies of food are running low.

In this environment, Lina works as a messenger, carrying verbal messages between residents, while Doon works in the pipeworks, trying to maintain the increasingly decrepit system of pipes and valves which carry water to Ember's residents. Unknown to the residents of Ember, the Builders had left an escape plan in a box that would automatically open when 200 years had passed. However, one of the city's early mayors had tossed the box into a closet where it lay forgotten for nearly two centuries. Then Lina accidentally stumbles across the box, opens it and finds the cryptic message. As she decodes it, she realizes that it describe a way for the city's residents to escape from Ember before the lights go out forever and the city self-destructs. Lina decides to inform Mayor Cole (Bill Murray), not realizing that the corrupt mayor does not support her enthusiasm for having found a potential way out of the city. And so the two heroic teenagers find themselves on the run from the city's authorities while they are trying to solve the puzzle of how to escape from the city.

Adapted by Caroline Thompson from a story by Jeanne Duprau, the film is directed by Gil Kenan (Monster House) and co-stars Tim Robbins, Mary Kay Place, Toby Jones and Martin Landau. This is an interesting science fiction fantasy story, a family film with an ecological message and apocalyptic overtones, full of magic and wonder, expressed in a dark, steampunk production design, with an appearance similar to that of an mild, PG-rated Blade Runner. While short on narrative depth, City of Ember is visually stunning, and the second half of the film is a fast-paced, heart-stopping action ride. The conclusion is life-affirming and rewarding. 

Labels: adventure, family, fantasy, sci-fi    
Internet Movie Database    
Metacritic 58/100    
Tomatometer (critics=53, viewers=47)

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